The Toshiba Portege R600: Executive Jewelry?

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The Toshiba Portege has become the “one to beat” in the ultraportable market. But, is being at the top of the heap nothing more than style over substance in a world filled with inexpensive netbooks?

To be a contender in the ultraportable market, one has to design a notebook computer that’s lightweight, powerful, feature rich and long battery life. Toshiba has accomplished that time and again with its Portege ultraportable notebooks. The latest model, the R600, is no exception.

But, over the last year the market has changed – more users are looking to inexpensive netbooks to meet their ultraportable needs and traditional ultraportable computers are beginning to take on the aura of expensive executive luxuries.

To be fair, netbooks can’t hold a candle to an ultraportable in features and performance. After all, netbooks are slow, lack optical drives and storage, and have small screens. And that’s just the obvious shortcomings. Yet they are still an excellent tool for performing basic tasks, such as Web surfing, e-mail, creating documents and, of course, Web 2.0 applications. For most users, that functionality will be enough and a netbook proves to be a good fit.

For power users, neither an ultralight nor a netbook will do. They demand performance on par with desktops, and are willing to sacrifice lighter weights better energy consumption. The Portege R600 tries to undo that sacrifice, but the unit won’t perform on the level of a desktop replacement system.

Even so, the R600 is arguably the very best ultraportable available, but is being the best in ultraportables enough to entice the power user and does it justify the price? Or, is the R600 doomed to be little more than an executive toy? Probably not, the R600 offers several features that make it a viable choice for the traveling knowledge worker, albeit expensive. Channel Insider took a closer look at those features to see where the value lies with Toshiba’s crown jewel of ultraportable computing.

The Portege R600: Up Close
To maintain superiority in the ultraportable market, Toshiba has to cram as much technology as possible into an ultraportable package and have that system outperform the previous generation models, while still holding the line on costs. A very different proposition from what netbook manufactures need to accomplish.

At around £2000, the Portege (model R600-S4202) costs about five times more than the typical netbook system, but it delivers a feature mix that should be the envy of any notebook manufacturer. The Portege weighs 1.114 kg, features a 12.1-inch WXGA (1280×800) display, 128GB solid state drive (SSD), Intel Core 2 Duo Processor SU9400 (1.4Ghz), 3GB RAM, and a DVD SuperMulti (+/-R) drive.

The R600-S4202 offers several improvements over previous models. It features a brighter 12.1-inch screen that’s viewable in most any lighting situation. Toshiba has strengthened the system by using more magnesium in the case and has added a spill resistant keyboard. What’s more the unit now features a webcam integrated into the screen bezel making the unit suitable for the impromptu Skype video conferences.

The unit still features an impressive array of ports – users will find a pair of USB ports, an eSata port, modem, 10/100/1000 Ethernet, VGA, audio and a compact flash port. The unit’s new display is exceptionally bright and crisp and is a big improvement over earlier models. That said, Toshiba could go one step further and offer a 13.3-inch display and up the resolution to WSXGA+ (1680×1050) and really knock a users socks off, while still fitting into the ultraportable realm.

Toshiba offers three OS options for the system–Windows Vista Business 32-Bit, Windows Vista Business 64-Bit and a downgrade option to Windows XP. With a little more RAM in the system, the 64-bit version of Windows Vista Business would be the way to go. That said, we chose to install the 64-bit Vista version, although the system only came with 3GB RAM. Why? Simply to test and make sure that Toshiba did all of their homework and offered a complete set of drivers for the 64-bit OS. Users looking to maximize performance will probably want to go with XP, which runs faster than Vista. Users looking for advanced security and connectivity features will want to choose Vista. Either way, it’s nice that Toshiba gives options here, although a choice of Ubuntu would be a great option for Toshiba to consider. When compared to a netbook, it’s clear that the R600 has the muscle to run Vista, while most netbooks come with either Linux or Windows XP.

To put the system through its paces, PerformanceTest V6.1 (64Bit) and BatteryMon from Passmark software was installed.

The system offered an overall PassMark Rating of 438.4, which is quite good for an ultraportable – the previous generation of the Portege (R500-S5007V) could only muster a PassMark Rating of 320, so the new system does offer a significant increase in performance. Compared to a netbook system, the R600 doubles the performance and then some – a previously tested MSI Wind netbook scored a 207.4 on the PassMark scale.

While Toshiba can put the performance feather in its cap, the R600 also offers incredible battery life – with the screen brightness set to maximum and only a few power saving features enable, we were able to use the system for close to five hours (with a Wi-Fi connection). Once we enabled the power saving features, turned off the radio and dimmed the display to about 50 percent (the typical setup for use on an airplane) we saw usable battery life approaching eight hours.

Good performance and exceptional battery life are the cornerstones of an ultraportable system and Toshiba has hit the nail on the head when it comes to meeting those requisites, but does that justify the price tag? Only if those features are a must have. Simply put, if a user needs a lightweight portable and is running mostly Web-based applications, in most cases a netbook will do.

For solution providers, selling a R600 could generate decent profits, with margins of around 10 percent. But, a solution provider may be better off selling multiple netbooks and garner profits from the multiple sales, while opening the door for the integration and deployment of Web-based applications.